Graduate recruitment continues throughout the Spring term and many of you will be planning to apply for employers’ work experience and graduate opportunities. It’s a good time to reflect on employers’ requirements and how to meet them.
A good degree from a good university
Warwick has a strong reputation both in the UK and nationally and you need to achieve the best result you can and align yourself with employers and opportunities that are within your scope. Many employers set a 2:1 requirement for their graduate programmes (this also applies to some postgraduate courses) so being on track to achieve this gives the widest range of options. Some will consider a 2:2 and all will take into account specific mitigating circumstances. Remember there are Warwick alumni who gained a 2:2 or less and are now working in successful careers. Your class of degree does not define you and after a few years at work it ceases to become important. What matters is your experience, what you’ve achieved and how you use it to move forward in your career.
Whilst some graduates go on to work in fields closely related to their degree many more use it as a stepping stone to job roles where subject discipline isn’t important. Most employers are more interested in an applicant’s skills than their degree subject. They look for skills that will enable a graduate to be successful in their organisation. They value self-reliance including the personal skills to set goals and targets, to organise your time to achieve them and to keep going when things get tough. Employers want people who understand how to build relationships and work well with others in a respectful and collaborative way. They look for intellectual and thinking skills, the ability to solve problems and commercial awareness; understanding of what’s going on in the world and its impact on the sector and specific employers/businesses you are applying to.
Each year Bright Network1 (Bright Network, 2020) conduct a survey with their student members and employers on ‘What do graduate employers want’. The results revealed that communication was top for employers (students ranked this 3rd), a 2:1 degree was 6th for employers (1st for students) and existing industry experience was least important for employers (ranked 2nd by students). Passion for the business was ranked 2nd by employers (4th for students). Employers look for people who genuinely want to work for them, understand their business and can show they would be a good fit.
Ability to take responsibility and make an impact
Employers value a wide range of experience; they expect you to get involved in activities outside your degree and make the most of your University experience. They appreciate this may involve working part-time during term time and in vacations to earn money and that some students will spend time gaining further experience after they graduate. Opportunities where you can play an active part, take responsibility and show demonstrable results are valuable and are more likely to enable you to evidence skills like teamwork, leadership and resilience.
Taking on a position of responsibility in a society provides opportunities to gain experience in organising events e.g. mooting, client interviewing and competitions. Warwick Law School, for example, provides legal projects (e.g. Death Penalty Project) and, through its collaboration with the Central England Law Centre (Warwick LinC), public law projects. Check out external competitions and Warwick Volunteers. Extended employer internships and work experience over the summer vacation provide opportunities to take responsibility for delivering specific projects. However programmes like law firm vacation schemes which focus on providing insight into the organisation/role of trainees are unlikely to provide evidence for skills due to their short term nature (1 -2 weeks). This is also true of online internships like those available via Forage (formerly InsideSherpa) which provide insight into job sectors and employers and help develop commercial awareness.
Evidence of your skills & strengths
The recruitment process is evidence based. Application and interview questions and assessment centre activities relate to the employer’s competency requirements and look for compelling evidence from your performance. Competency based questions look for evidence of you applying your skills in practice.
It’s useful to map your experience against employer’s requirements to identify specific occasions when you have demonstrated the skills required and examples you could use. Try to use a range of examples. These should be authentic to you, current (within the last 3 years), relevant and robust. The STARR technique (situation, task, action, result, reflection) can help you focus on information you need to provide when articulating your experience and skills. Use high impact language (active verbs) to highlight the micro skills you used.
Motivation towards their business
Understanding what is important to you and what motivates you is the essential starting point for career planning. Use this to align yourself with opportunities that interest you and for which you think you are a good fit. Further research will enable you to develop your understanding of the business, customer/client base and work culture. You are then in a better positon to consider how well this fits with your values, interests, strengths and skills and decide whether to make an application. If you fail to take the time to research the employer/job role and reflect on how this fits with your values and skills, then you are likely to find it difficult to articulate your motivation and suitability in applications and interviews.
Employers are looking for candidates who genuinely want to work for them. They are hiring potential (not the finished article) and candidates become valuable when there is a clearly communicated desire to work for the company (based on in-depth research). Passion for the business has to be there at the beginning!
- Bright Network (2020) ‘What do graduate employers want’ 2020.